Holiday books: Nonfiction

  • Article by: CHUCK LEDDY , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 30, 2013 - 4:03 PM

"Detroit: An American Autopsy" by Charlie Leduff

“Thank You for Your Service”

By David Finkel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26)

David Finkel’s “The Good Soldiers” remains the best book of nonfiction written about the Iraq war. In his new book, he follows those same “good soldiers” to the homefront after their deployments have ended. Finkel offers readers a highly detailed, heartbreaking account of the struggles the soldiers and their families face as they seek to recover from the physical and mental scars of war and integrate back into “normal” life. The unsentimental way Finkel builds his narrative only adds to the tragic depth of this moving, must-read book that will make you think differently about the true costs of war.

“Detroit: An American Autopsy”

By Charlie LeDuff (Penguin, $27.95)

Back in his broken, now-bankrupt hometown, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist LeDuff searches through the ruins for clues to its fate, his family’s and his own. Once the richest city in the United States, Detroit is now the nation’s poorest. Once the symbol of American industrial might, Detroit is now the country’s capital for socioeconomic dysfunction. LeDuff explores it all with literary grace and justified indignation about what’s befallen a place he loves.

“Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”

By Sheryl Sandberg (Knopf, $24.95)

In this controversial book, Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, asks women to challenge the assumption that men should dominate executive positions. She asks men to be real partners, sharing family work that typically leads women to stay home, and asks women planning a family not to mentally check out of work. While Sandberg’s critics are many, her book has also spurred important conversations about women and work.

“The Boys In the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”

By Daniel James Brown (Viking, $28.95)

The dramatic, inspirational story of the U.S. rowing team that stunned the world at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The sons of working-class families, these rowers defeated elite rivals from American and British universities, then won gold by beating the German team rowing for Hitler. Brown’s gripping tale reminds us of what can happen when everyone quite literally pulls together.

“Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution”

By Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking, $32.95)

The bestselling author of “In the Heart of the Sea” and “Mayflower” brings his narrative brilliance to the story of the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution. Philbrick offers fresh perspective to the oft-told story by focusing on little-known characters like physician Joseph Warren, who emerges as the grass-roots leader of the Patriot cause. Others in the colorful cast include Paul Revere, George Washington and British General Thomas Gage. History at its best.

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital”

By Sheri Fink (Crown, $27)

Pulitzer-Prize winner physician/journalist Fink masterfully investigates patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Reconstructing five chaotic days at Memorial Medical Center, she pulls readers into the lives of people struggling for survival. The book illuminates just how ill-prepared we are in managing large-scale disasters, and how we can manage better. Fink’s remarkable book will transform your understanding of people’s behavior in crises.

“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief”

By Lawrence Wright (Knopf, $28.95)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Looming Tower” offers a gripping, clear-sighted and devastating look into the world of Scientology. Wright’s masterful narrative revolves around two men: science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who invented the religion, and David Miscavige, Hubbard’s driven, hard-nosed successor. Wright describes Scientology’s complicated cosmology and how it advances its goals by recruiting celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

“Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami”

By Gretel Ehrlich (Pantheon, $25)

A passionate student of Japanese culture, Ehrlich returned to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated nation in order to bear witness to its radioactive landscape, listen to survivors and seek to understand their traumatizing experiences. Ehrlich’s eloquent narrative combines strong reportage, lyrical observations and deeply felt reflection. The result is unique and stunningly engaging.

“Gun Guys: A Road Trip”

By Dan Baum (Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95)

A self-described Jewish Democrat from New Jersey, Baum plays cultural anthropologist, exploring our nation’s fascination with guns and bringing back valuable, eye-opening insights from “gun country.” In his thoroughly open-minded and balanced narrative, Baum makes firsthand observations by visiting gun stores, shooting ranges and gun shows, asking simple, probing questions. By listening with an open mind, Baum (and his readers) learn valuable lessons.

“The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America”

By George Packer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27)

An ambitious, kaleidoscopic look at a nation in crisis. The renowned Packer chronicles the lives of several Americans, including a factory worker trying to survive the collapse of her Rust Belt city, a Washington insider caught between political idealism and the attractions of money and a high-tech billionaire who develops a radical vision of the future. Interweaving these smaller stories, Packer skillfully explores our nation’s deeper, troubling undercurrents.

 

Chuck Leddy is a Boston book critic and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

















 

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  • JIM GEHRZ • jgehrz@startribune.com Fort Campbell, KY/February 14, 2011/11:00 AM Nearly 300 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade returned home to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Valentine's Day after serving a year-long, overseas deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The soldiers were greeted by hundreds of enthusiastic family members and relatives. Troops were offered a yellow rose that they could then share with a loved one as they were reunited in a hanger at the Fort. IN THIS PHOTO:] Soldiers stood together during a welcome home ceremony in a hanger. After several dignitaries spoke, troops were reunited with their...

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